Distribution of school book on Nepal’s borders and territory halted after Cabinet decisionSaying that they were not consulted on content, the ministries of land management and foreign affairs have raised reservations about the textbook which aims to teach students on Nepal’s boundary disputes with India.
Days after the Ministry of Education launched a controversial secondary school reference book on the country’s borders and territories, it is now halting its distribution since it was found to have a number of factual errors and “inappropriate” content.
The Cabinet on Thursday directed the Ministry of Education to halt the distribution and not to print any more copies of the textbook following serious reservations from the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“We concluded that distribution of the erroneous book should be stopped,” Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe told the Post referring to the Cabinet meeting. “It wasn’t a right move to publish a book on sensitive issues with so many wrong facts.”
Education Minister Giriraj Mani Pokharel on September 15 released the 110-page book titled, Self Study Material on Nepal’s Territory and Border which dwells around historical facts about the country’s territory and its border dispute mainly with the southern neighbour.
The Ministry of Land Management, after the study of the book, on Thursday, prior to the Cabinet meeting, had submitted its concerns to Chief Secretary Lok Darshan Regmi pointing out over three dozen errors and “inappropriate” materials including four from the preface.
“There are errors in the books the Ministry of Education prepared on a subject that it did not have expertise on,” said Janak Raj Joshi, spokesperson at the Ministry of Land Management. “The Education Ministry stepped on the jurisdiction of the Land Management and Foreign Affairs ministries.”
“We are amazed to see some of the facts in the book.”
The book states Nepal’s new area to be 147,641.28 square kilometers including the 460.28 sq km area of the Kalapani area which was included in Nepal’s political map on May 20 by the Cabinet.
“The Department of Survey, which is the official agency that declares the total area of the country, however, hasn’t made any decision on the area,” Joshi told the Post.
A senior official at the Land Management Ministry said the ban in the distribution of the book was necessary for five reasons.
First, there are a numbers of factual errors; second, it’s not the job of the Education Ministry to decide on issues like area and border; third, the preface is outrageous and inappropriate; fourth, some of the sensitive proofs Nepal needs at the time of negotiation shouldn’t have been published; and lastly, the timing of the publication comes at a time when dialogue between Nepal and India is not moving forward, he added.
Pokharel has written a six-page preface in which he has mentioned how he campaigned 24 years back “to chase” the Indian Army away from the Nepali territory in Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, the disputed areas.
It is unheard of for a minister to write the preface of a school textbook.
“I did not write the book. It was drafted by experts from universities,” said Minister Pokharel when asked for comments on the Cabinet decision. “Its distribution has been halted for now.”
However, Keshab Dahal, director general at the Curriculum Development Centre, said he was unaware about any decision by the government.
“I have no knowledge of such a decision,” he told the Post. He refused to comment further.
Dahal on Wednesday had told the Post that the book was unveiled after consent of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and other concerned ministers.
However, Thumbahanghe and the officials from the Land Management Ministry said that was not the case.
“How would such a book with so many factual errors have been published if there was a proper discussion?” said a senior official from the Ministry of Land Management.
Similarly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was also on the dark about the content of the book.
“We have serious reservations on the book as we were not consulted prior to its publication,” said a senior ministry official. “We came to know of the book only after it was discussed at a Cabinet meeting.”
Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, former director-general of the Survey Department, said he was consulted by the Education Ministry only to check the map and other facts related to Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura.
He said he has found some mistakes regarding the area of the disputed territory and Nepal’s total area in the map.
“There is nothing wrong in the Education Ministry’s decision to publish a book to inform a new generation about the reality,” he said. “I would suggest the ministry correct it and publish a new edition.”
The publication of the book, according to the preface, was triggered by the Indian government’s move on November 2 last year to publish its political map depicting Kalapani area within Indian borders.
But there have been objections to the book’s publication not only for the lack of coordination between various ministries but also because it can affect the Nepal-India relations, which are not in their best shape due to the territory dispute.
It can further shrink prospects of dialogue with India , said an official at the Ministry of Land Management on the condition of anonymity.
Diplomats, experts and academics had raised similar concerns after Pokharel made public the book published by the Curriculum Development Centre. They said coming out with the book at a time when Nepal and India were seeing some positive gestures in the resumption of dialogue after months-long deadlock due to a “cartographic war” depicted the shortsightedness of the government.
They also questioned if it was necessary to teach students about Nepal’s territory and border disputes while the government has several other pressing issues to address. The experts were of the view that coming out with a separate book was unnecessary when the issue could have been incorporated in a chapter of Social Studies.
With widespread criticism of the book, its future and its content is still unclear.
“The Prime Minister has asked me to talk with foreign and land reforms ministers. We will resolve the matter after holding talks with them soon,” Minister Pokharel told the Post. “I can't say anything more than this before consulting with the two ministers.”